YOUR HEALTH Detecting bladder cancer early

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee – It was a fairytale romance for Mary Beth Ballard and Chris Murray.   But a year into the marriage the couple faced a nightmare when Mary Beth noticed blood in her urine.

"For a few months it would come and go and I didn't really know what was going on," said Mary Beth.

In 2014, Mary Beth was diagnosed with bladder cancer.

"I was 28 years old at the time. It's very shocking and unexpected."

Urologic Surgeon Kristen Scarpato says bladder cancer usually affects older patients.

"Typically men age 65 and older," said Dr. Kristen Scarpato of Vanderbilt University.

"And in fact, she's one of the youngest patients we've ever treated here."

Bladder cancer is a rare form of cancer. Most bladder cancers start in the innermost lining of the bladder called the urothelium or transitional epithelium.  Urothelial carcinoma is the most common form of bladder cancer.

After her first cancer surgery, Mary Beth went to Vanderbilt University for a second opinion.   That's where they used blue light cystoscopy with fluorescent technology that makes cancer cells light up, to check her bladder.

"It allows you to see lesions that are flat and not otherwise obvious more clearly," explained Dr. Scarpato.

Once the surgery begins, a scope is used to inspect the bladder with a white light first, and then a blue light to identify the cancer cells.   Any abnormal areas are then biopsied.

This technology is geared towards a variety of patients, from first time bladder cancer patients seeking a biopsy to those with invasive bladder cancer.

It turned out more than half of Mary Beth's bladder was covered in tumors.

"It was really tough," Mary Beth recalled.

After another surgery and immunotherapy to target any remaining cancer cells, there's great news!

"I've been cancer free for two and a half years."

And now more amazing news: the couple is expecting their first child.  Her husband Chris says this ordeal taught them a valuable lesson.

"Kind of showed us what's important in life," he explained.

STANDARD TREATMENT:  Early treatments of bladder cancer require surgery to remove the tumor or small portions of the bladder affected. Transurethral Resection of Bladder Tumor (TURBT) uses a small wire loop through a cystoscope and into the bladder to burn away cancer cells. This could lead to painful or bloody urinations after the procedure. Segmental cystectomy removes a part of the bladder and the tumor cells along with it, but is rarely used and is only done if a part of the bladder can be removed without harming daily functions. If the cancer becomes invasive, then surgery to remove the entire bladder is an option. With women, this results in the removal of the uterus, ovaries and part of the vagina. This surgery, otherwise known as radical cystectomy, can lead to infertility and pre-menopause.
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If this story impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at



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